Imagine a law that says that Enbridge or ET Rover is not required to disclose to you basic facts or details about the pipeline that runs through your backyard.
Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly the law that the Michigan legislature is trying to pass. According to House Bill 4540, basic information “about the production, generation, transportation, transmission, or distribution of fuel or energy” would be exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. That means, potentially, that the pipeline company that has access to your property — a company like Enbridge or Vector or Rover– would not have to tell you what materials are getting pumped through the pipeline on your property, where that product is going, or what plans the company has in the event that the pipeline ruptures on your property.
In fact, the language of the bill is so laughably broad that it would exempt pipeline companies from even having to disclose the specific locations of their pipelines– despite the fact that those same pipeline companies are required by federal law to mark the locations of their pipeline right of ways. The pipeline company would also not have to disclose information about its emergency response plans– something of vital importance to all of us. Think about this for a second: according to the proposed law, you would not have the right to know the same details about the operation of the pipeline in your yard that the government knows.
We’re not making this up.
As we noted on Thursday, Keith Matheny has a story on the proposed bill in the Detroit Free Press from earlier in the week. Also this week, the great Jack Lessenberry weighed in on the issue, reminding us why our legislators “don’t deserve our trust”:
They demonstrate daily that they don’t work for us, or care about what we think. Here’s the latest example: Kurt Heise, a Republican state representative from Plymouth, introduced a bill this week to prevent all of us from getting information about things like oil and gas pipelines in this state.
Currently, a lot of people are worried about a pipeline Enbridge has under the straits of Mackinac. If it broke, that would utterly devastate the Great Lakes.
Enbridge, as we know too well, had a pipeline break five years ago, sending more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Its pipeline under Mackinac would be old enough to collect Social Security, if it were a person. If that were to break it could be the worst environmental disaster in our history.
But Kurt Heise doesn’t want us to be able to find out much about it. We wouldn’t be able to find out much about high-energy power lines either, or other critical and potentially dangerous energy sources. He would exempt their owners from the state Freedom of Information Act.
To cover their backsides, the sponsors of the bill, including Kurt Heise, want to pretend that this is a national security issue. Here’s what Heise told the Free Press:
“We do not want people who may have ill intent to be able to locate the exact location of underground utilities, the pumps and surface machinery that may exist with those underground utilities, so they are protected from harm,” Heise said.
But national security risks are nothing new. Nor are pipelines in this state, which have been operating in this state for decades. So why this concern now, all of a sudden? The timing is peculiar to say the least. One plausible explanation for this timing– far more plausible than Heise’s “national security” canard– is that Enbridge’s Line 5 has been the topic of a great deal of scrutiny and concern by the public recently. It’s clear that Enbridge would rather not disclose certain information about that line and its other operations in the state (we can only speculate as to why). So they somehow managed to convince shills like Heise to type up a law for them– a law that would also apply to their industry peers, like Rover.
Whatever the reason for the bill’s appearance now, what is clear is that it won’t ensure public safety. In fact, it will do just the opposite. We know from the Marshall spill– and dozens of other similar spill all across the country— that the oil and gas industry’s failures to comply with safety regulations (and their own safety protocols) pose a far more immediate threat to property, communities, and the environment than terrorists. For that reason, what we need now is more transparency, more scrutiny– not less. Because of the failures of the industry and state and federal regulators, it is more critical than ever to provide citizens with greater information to protect themselves. Yet this bill contains language so broad and so sweeping that a pipeline company could say that almost anything related to the operation of their pipelines “could be useful to a person planning an attack on critical energy infrastructure.”
Put simply, the bill places all of us at even greater risk. What could our legislators possibly be thinking?
Two final points before we ask you to take action:
The sponsors of this legislation– by which we mean both elected officials and oil and gas companies like Enbridge– would have you believe that this bill simply mirrors federal law. Don’t believe them; it’s not true. The bill does takes language (verbatim) from federal regulations put in place by one agency (NOT the legislature) to define a process for the request or protection of potentially sensitive information. The Michigan bill goes far beyond that; it gives oil and gas companies legal protection for keeping secrets from you.
Secondly, the Michigan FOIA already has a provision that allows certain exemptions for safety and security (see section Y). HB 4540 just provides special (or extra) accommodations for oil and gas companies, like Enbridge and Rover.
The bottom line is this: it’s a very bad bill. Bad for all of us. It’s quite clearly a bill conceived, promoted, and written not by Kurt Heise or his colleagues, but by Enbridge’s cadre of lawyers and lobbyists. Nor is it a bill that will protect you or your fellow Michigan citizens or our magnificent natural resources. If anything, it will just put us all at more risk.
For that reason, we’re asking you to take action. Please take a minute to write to your state representatives. A hearing by the Oversight and Ethics Committee is scheduled for Thursday. Below are links to contact information for the members of that committee. Joe Graves has been particularly responsive to constituent concerns on such matters. But please contact your representative also. Don’t allow Enbridge to write yet another of our state’s laws.
This matter is especially urgent if you are along the Enbridge, Vector, or Rover pipelines. Don’t you think you have the right to know as much as possible about the operation and condition of the pipeline that runs through your yard?
Michigan Oversight and Ethics Committee
Ed McBroom (R) Committee Chair, 108th District
Martin Howrylak (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 41st District
Joseph Graves (R) 51st District
Lana Theis (R) 42nd District
Rose Mary Robinson (D) Minority Vice-Chair, 4th District
Kristy Pagan (D) 21st District